Ladies wanted well pressed dresses. Men thought that it was important that the collar and shirt cuffs be very stiff. Sunday pants required a single crease down the middle of pant legs.
As I remember, the clothes were separated into several batches before washing. It was important that colored ones were not mixed with the whites.
Some clothes required bluing, some starch, others only cold rain water and soap. Rain water gathered from the cistern was softer than from the water well which at times had a lot of iron which caused clothing to turn reddish, yellow, or brown after a few washings.
I guess that not too many people remember how and why our parents blued some of their clothes. Over the years people were taught the value of bluing in the preparation of clothes. A blue liquid, which came in small glass bottles, was used to whiten whites and brighten other colors.
The blue liquid used in clothes washing was made with indigo. Oddly, through processing, the crop which was grown primarily grown for blue dye was also used to prevent discoloration of clothes.
Grandma knew that one had to be careful to add the bluing at the final rinse. Do it too soon and the clothes would get a blue stain. Bluing did not do any cleaning of the clothes; it just gave the appearance that it was cleaner by giving it an almost unnoticeable blue tint.
Once clothes were washed and blued the next stage of preparation followed – that of starching.
I don’t remember how grandma would pronounce bluing in French, probably mettez le bleu, but starch was amidonnés (pronounced ah-me-don-a). Laundry starch was prepared commercially by mixing a vegetable starch in water.
Starch has been used in Europe as early as the 16th century to stiffen the collars and ruffles of linen which surrounded the necks of the wealthy. Besides the stiffness it gave to clothing, it served other purposes. Dirt and sweat from a person’s body would stick to the starch rather than to the fibers of the clothing, and would easily wash away along with the starch during washing.
After bluing and starching, the clothes were dried in an energy efficient way – by hanging on a clothes line. This way of drying not only saved energy, but increased the life of the material.
Then came the ironing. By iron, I don’t mean those new light weight steam irons. I mean a five-pound iron that was placed on a wood burning stove.
Grandmothers were trained to know exactly how hot the iron had to be in order to press clothes.
More than once we were reminded not to distract grandma when she was ironing. Keep the iron too long and burn marks would appear on the clothes or the ironing board.
The ironing board was handmade with wood and would easily burn. Some families were able to buy heavy duty coverings for the ironing board that resisted heat, but nothing protected the clothing from excessive heat.
Today grandma would certainly be confused with the fancy detergents which don’t require bluing, the aerosol starch sprays, clothing that need not be ironed, and the electric clothes dryers.
Times do change.
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